A Week in Photos: March 8th

Oh my goooooodness! What an awesome week we had! It was go go go and packed with amazingness.

Jed was in America for 12 days and just got home last Thursday. He had an awesome time of connecting with supporters and churches. He went with the purpose of building a Wide Awake Medical Advisory Team and made lots of great contacts toward that end. It will be exciting to see what comes of it.  We realize that we are at the far limits of our own personal knowledge for how to best help the boys at Romaniv.  It’s time to pull in the big guns. The people Jed met with were so gracious and excited to help. Our Boys are loved by so many!

These past few days we had an extra special treat. You see Wide Awake gets to partner with some pretty special people, and two of them visited this past week. Suzy and Lois visited from Hands of Hope Adoption and Orphan Care and we had a super great time. We got to talk about how we can best work together and how we, along with Mission to Ukraine, can best join forces to care for our Boys. It was incredible!!! We didn’t want them to leave!  Talk about kindred spirits… I’ll share more about that later. Now for the pics!

On Tuesday we celebrated Valera’s 30th birthday! He was over the moon excited!

That pink box was his only birthday wish 🙂

Suzy, Lois, and Romaniv Directors. All four, so precious to us

Baking, baking, baking in preparation for a BIG party for Romaniv nannies!

Four handsome MEN- all ready for their special performances

Addy and Ez came along to help with the party. They were so happy to see their Romaniv buddies!!!

Sweet nannies. We love them.

Stasik welcoming everyone to the special party!

Hands of Hope gave each nanny their own multicooker! They are all the rage here and cost almost a full month’s salary! The nannies were just a tad bit excited.

Meanwhile, the boys were busy being adorable…

Maxim’s first selfie 🙂

Our Friday afternoon team is back in action!

All in all it was a fabulous week. Good things are happening left and right. We are so blessed to partner with MTU and Hands of Hope.

On another note, our fam is battling some sickness and just all around exhaustion, so we would appreciate your prayer. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Ain’t nobody got time for that! 😉

Till next time! Say yes to Jesus this week, okay?

Swiss Shock and Awe

Welcome December! How did that happen? November was like two seconds long. I was planning to do a Thanksgiving post, but then we lost electricity for 5 days, and then we had Thanksgiving, and then the next day Addy and left for Switzerland!


I have a lot to be thankful for. Even more so after this weekend. Oh God, why are you so good to us??? Wow.

I might have told you before about our Switzerland connection, but just in case I didn't, or you forgot, I'll sum it up real quick like.


Many moons ago, in my former American life, I loved a little boy in Ukraine. My friends and I desperately wanted to find this little boy a family because he resided in an institution much like Romaniv and we knew he needed out. A few friends and I decided we would organize a day dedicated to this precious boy (who now lives with a wonderful family in Texas!!!) and try to get as many people fundraising for him on one day as we could. Adoption is expensive and many times if the money obstacle is removed, it makes adoption more possible.

Well, as we were fundraising in Oregon a woman in Switzerland, Sandra, contacted me by email and told me that she too was fundraising for the very same boy! She desperately prayed that he would find a family, and our friendship grew as we advocated for our sweet boy.


Once we knew we were moving to Ukraine, Sandra chimed in and said if we ever made it over to Switzerland we should share at her church in Lucerne. We highly doubted we would make it to Switzerland, but thought the gesture was nice. Well, God knew better. It turned out that last January we needed to go to Switzerland to get our Ukrainian visas and we got to visit Sandra, her family, and her church.


The International Church of Lucerne embraced right from the get-go. They fell in love with our Boys and God broke their hearts. They began to support us in prayer and with some finances. I can not express to you how warm and loving is this awesome community of believers. They are the real deal and I can't believe we get the honor to partner with them.

Jed went to Switzerland in September for a family wedding and got to visit our friends in Lucerne. He told them of our need for a van to transport volunteers to and from Romaniv, and right there on the spot they decided to do a Thanksgiving fundraiser to buy a van for Wide Awake. Awesome.


So, this past weekend was the fundraiser and holy moly, I guess I set my expectations just a wee bit too low. God blew my itty bitty expectations out of the water. What a generous, loving, beautiful community we found in the International Church of Lucerne. In one weekend they donated thousands of Swiss Francs. THOUSANDS. Those thousands, in addition to gifts from their body given to Jed in September will buy us a van. Need met in an instant.

Blown away, humbled, joyful, tearful, THANKFUL.

Jed kinda kicked me out the door by sending me on this trip to Switzerland. He knew I needed a breather and a time of refreshment for my spirit. I felt nervous, and unsure, but excited to go. I brought Addy with me, and thought if nothing else it would be a special time for the two of us together.

It was that, and so much more.

Many of you have donated and donated and donated to this cause. Many people have given thousands of dollars to help improve the lives of our Boys. Many people gave before we moved, and many more people have given since. We are thankful for every single cent, and for every single bit of love that goes along with the cents. THANK YOU!! Because of the distance, all that communicating and giving is done online. Yay for internet! This was different though, because this was the first time I had seen a group of people, in the flesh, get behind this cause and get behind our Boys like this since we moved to Ukraine. It's different now that our Boys aren't just an idea or a passion. They are our friends and our loved ones. When I share about them now it's with a knowing that comes from hours spent together. Watching strangers work hard to prepare and then pull off an event like this just for our Boys, after really knowing our Boys is a whole new ballgame.


I just sat there, watching pies being auctioned off for my Boys and tears filled my eyes. How is God so good? How is it that He cares so much about our Boys and about us that He put it in the hearts of people thousands of miles away to give so generously and selflessly?

I wish so bad I could tell our Boys how much they are loved from afar. As I sat in that room on Friday night I wondered what each of the Boys would think and feel if they were surrounded by as much love as I was that night. I felt so honored, so loved- to overflowing. My spirit didn't see that coming. 🙂


To the International Church of Lucerne- your love and care for our family and our Boys is absolutely amazing. You tell us that you love and you care, and we believe it. Not just because of the money (which of course we couldn't appreciate more!) but because of your warm hearts and open arms. Your love is evident on your faces and we are just so thankful that God has brought our lives together. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for every bit of generosity poured out last weekend and in the months since we met. You have made a difference.


So, there's my Thanksgiving post. I'm not sure I've ever had a Thanksgiving where it hit home more. Praise God, it's time to go van shopping!! Yeehaw!


PS: Addy and I also got to spend some very special time with family. Brett and Rachel just got married and it was such a joy to be with them. Serious balm for my soul. Brett and Rachel, we love you and are so proud of you. Addy and I loved and savored every single minute with you. Ukraine is waiting for you!!! 😉


(God’s) Timing is Everything

So yesterday was basically amazing.

We had the extreme honor and pleasure of meeting with a woman in Kyiv who has worked for twenty years to provide rights for, and secure the rights of people with disabilities.  She and her team have worked tirelessly to rewrite laws and create legislation and lobby for the ones we love.  This incredible woman was fighting for our Boys before we even had a clue they existed.  This incredible woman deserves a standing ovation.


As a mother of an adult son with disabilities she recognized the holes in the social system of Ukraine.  She saw how her own son would fall between those cracks.  She knew the value of his life and decided to do something about it.

As Ukraine attempts to move toward European Standards of Care for institutionalized children and adults it has become obvious that the current model of care can not continue “as is”.  Major overhauls must happen.  Major change must come.  And it will have to be MAJOR.

Before we moved here we told people that the whole social system here in Ukraine would have to change in order for the dreams God has given us to come about.  We dream of community living for people of all abilities where they are not isolated, but are active members of society.  We dream of homes where children are not confined to their beds, but they are truly living and thriving, surrounded by loving support for all their days.  Those dreams are legally impossible with the current system.  BUT, change is coming.  We don’t know when (but we do know it will be soon), we don’t now how, but now we know the people who have been dreaming this dream long before we arrived.


Timing is everything.  The harvest is so ripe.  How can we honor those who have gone before us? How can we thank them enough for their tireless, unrecognized efforts?  It’s truly humbling and so encouraging!  I mean, think about this: we knew at some point we would have to hire a legal team to dig in to, and fight to change the laws here concerning people with disabilities.  Then yesterday we learned that there are people here already doing that- and with much success!


There is much, much work to be done, and many battles yet to be fought, but we are not alone. We are a teeny-tiny piece of a great big puzzle here in Ukraine.  There are others who care, and it is personal to them.  We met one of them yesterday.

I’m a concrete thinker.  I like to know what to do next.  All these policies and plans and multi-year projects are nearly impossible for me to wrap my brain around.  But, in our meeting we were given a solid next step to work toward.  We learned that it is important to register Wide Awake International as an NGO here in Ukraine.  That will be to our benefit once the big changes start to take place.  So, we’ll get working on that right away.


In the meantime we’ll keep in touch with our new contact in Kyiv, and faithfully serve the Boys God has put right in front of us.  It’s more and more obvious as time goes by that this is the exact place we are supposed to be at this exact time in history.  Because of that we can rest.  Even though Ukraine is at war and the task before us seems insurmountable, we can be confident that God is truly in control.  Yay for that!!!!  Thank you all for your continued prayers and support.  You are making a difference in many lives!

The photos are from last week at Romaniv.  Little Ilya was cracking us up with his absolute love for music.  It really helps him to regulate.  He even tried to climb inside the guitar!  Don’t miss him on Jed’s lap in the pics.  Hilarious and awesome.  




Today I’m glowing.  I’m basking in yesterday.  Today was a great day, don’t get me wrong, but part of the reason today was so good is because yesterday was simply superb.  It was a day of absolute beauty.  All day I felt God’s smile.  Lovely.

The day started out normal enough with Christina and I heading to Romaniv with the rest of the crew.  But Romaniv.  Oh Romaniv.  We had the BEST time.  Yesterday was hands down my favorite day at Romaniv yet.  No comparison.  It’s hard to say just what made it so special.  I think part of the goodness was that we are simply getting to know the boys more.  We are there consistently and it’s beginning to pay off bit by bit.  We know them all by name, some who are able can recognize us.  We are starting to get in to a bit of a rhythm with our little team.  We are learning some of the specific needs of each of the boys and when we are able, we meet those needs.


The path to some of the best boys on earth

I had the most beautiful moment with one of the boys, Vova.  I’m supposed to save this for our series about Romaniv but I can’t hold it in.  You can read about it twice.  🙂  So Nina brought bubbles yesterday.  That’s the first time we’ve attempted bubbles with the boys.  It was AWESOME!!!!  A few of them loved it!!!  Total success.  Anyway, after playing with bubbles for a bit I decided to take one of the bottles of bubbles and go to the bedrooms to see if some of the boys who don’t come to play would enjoy them at all.  I went in to the first room and found one boy asleep on the floor, one boy asleep on the bed, and Vova sitting in his bed rocking back and forth.  He was self stimulating, banging his hand on his leg repeatedly as he rocked.  I said his name and knelt on the floor below him.  Slowly I started blowing a couple bubbles.  Instantly he stopped stimming (self-stimulating).  He sat still for a moment and I blew a couple more bubbles.  He remained still and quiet so I kept on blowing, quietly and slowly, more and more bubbles.  Then, after a minute or so Vova slowly reached his hand up and started popping bubbles on by one.  He popped some in the air, a couple on his leg, on his bed.  He noticed the small wet spot left by a popped bubble and rubbed it with his finger.  I spoke softly to him a bit, but was mostly just quiet as we played with the bubbles for a while.  After several minutes of fascination with the bubbles he lifted his head and looked in my eyes.  He looked at me, and just kept on looking.  Melt my heart and make it burst all at once!!!  I’ve never had eye contact like this with Vova before.  He is normally distant and doesn’t participate at all in our time on Fridays.  Then there we were, at his bed, looking at each other.  I swear to you he almost smiled.  It was magical.  I felt the smile of God and His presence so strongly in that moment.  I don’t even have words to describe it.  Tears were running down my face as we looked at each other.  Then Vova looked away and I resumed blowing bubbles.

In that moment of connection I saw Vova in a different light.  Normally I think of him almost as an old man.  He walks unsteadily, legs bent at odd angles, not interacting with anyone. He often shrugs away from touch.  I don’t know if he is verbal at all.  Head shaved and nondescript face, but not yesterday.  I saw him as a young man yesterday.  I feel almost like I had the tiniest glimpse of how God sees Him.  He was beautiful and valuable and precious.  I will never ever forget that time.  It fills my heart with hope for what God has in store.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  

Jeremiah 29:11

That verse is for Vova.  That verse is for Misha.  That verse is for Bogdan and Vladik and Valera and Zhenya.  And because we believe that to be true, we have hope.

I got back home from Romaniv, and as I walked around the corner to our house I saw the kids talking to our neighbor!!  Our neighbors are like total mystery people.  We doubted their existence, so rare were the signs of life coming from their home.  Our building is actually made up of 6 “apartments”.  It’s hard to explain and hard to even tell where the different apartments start and end.  Well, finally I met one of our neighbors!  Not only that, but she was nice!  And she has a 2-year old!  Seth and little Vitaliy played trains while we two Mommies attempted conversation.  We managed to visit for an hour!!  OMG.  HUGE breakthrough!  I could have burst I was so happy to have a neighbor connection with an actual human.  Woot!  Thank you Jesus and thank you Google Translate.

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Getting our crazies out before going in to the theater

Then to wrap up the most fantastic day ever, the kids and I (Jed was in Kyiv) went to a concert at our local theater with some friends.  We listened to a local Acapella choir that is famous throughout Ukraine.  It was absolute heaven.  They were beautiful.  I can hardly wait till their next tour.  You guys, it was such a treat.  They sang old traditional Ukrainian songs, songs in Latin, a fun song in English about springtime love, and even an old spiritual that I sang in high school choir!  Now that was a kick.  During the English song Ezra leaned over and said “Mom, this sounds a lot like English!”  “Yes, that’s because it IS English my boy.”  Haha!  They sang a tribute song to “Heavens Hundred”, the people who died on Maidan in February- ordinary people who gave all so their country could have a future.  Everyone stood while they sang, many people were crying.  It was a moment I’ll not soon forget.  The spirit of the Ukrainian people is astounding.  In the midst of occupation and threat of invasion at our borders, they steal away on a Friday night to partake of beauty and honor their heroes.  At the end of the concert the singers and the audience cheered “СЛАВА УКРАЇНІ!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”)  You could see the pride in their eyes.

So there you have it; my yesterday.  My heart is full.

Here is a video tribute to the Heavenly Hundred.  The song in this video is the song we heard sung last night.  May God bless Ukraine and may their deaths never be in vain.

Thursday + Pics

Hello!  Today’s Thursday, hence the title “Thursday”.  Today is a normal day.  Addy and Ezra went to school.  I guess today was a little special at school because their class got to go over to the bigger school down the street and watch the teenagers put on a play.  They were so excited, and I’m happy to report that they weren’t disappointed.  They had a great time on their first “field trip”.

Hava, Seth, and I took the bus to the big grocery store at the mall and did some shopping, Jed worked at MTU- meeting about the volunteer program development and helping in special needs classrooms.  Life as usual for the Johnson fam.  🙂

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At a birthday party in Kyiv…guess what mug they saved for me?

I’ve kind of neglected this spot lately.  My last post was 10 days ago!  No bueno.

Lots has been happening and it seems there’s always something to write about, but then when the end of the day comes and I have time to write I’m utterly exhausted.  I really want to enjoy writing here, and good posts never come out of compulsion.  But, I still need to attempt to be more faithful here.

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Babes at Maidan

So…here’s my attempt at a bit of a catch-up post so I can give myself a clean slate and a fresh start. Mmmmk?

1.  We switched to learning Ukrainian.  Oy.  Don’t get me started.  Okay, I’ll explain.  We started out learning Russian long before we even moved.  I’m pretty sure I’ve explained why we have been studying Russian (more useful worldwide, there are boys we would love to get to someday that live in the south where Russian is more widely spoken, our dreams are bigger than only Ukraine…).  BUT, we are realizing more and more each day that for our every day life here and now in Zhytomyr, we really need Ukrainian.  Ukrainian is spoken at Romaniv.  Our kids are learning Ukrainian in school.  All their homework is in Ukrainian.  Classes we assist with at MTU are taught in Ukrainian.  Our church is in Ukrainian.  Yeah….not so much Russian.  Although, most people you meet on the street are speaking Russian.  So, I guess picking one language and sticking with it is the most important decision.  Most people here in Zhytomyr mix the languages together, so I’m assuming that’s what we’ll begin to do as well.  My poor, poor brain…  🙂

Fast Fact: When we were studying Russian we spelled the town we live in like this: “Zhitomir” – the Russian transliteration.  Now that we’re learning Ukrainian we spell it like this: “Zhytomyr”- the Ukrainian transliteration.  Same goes with “Kiev” vs. “Kyiv”.  🙂

2.  We had some amazingly wonderful special guests this past weekend!

Okay.  Jed’s parents are missionaries in Kosovo.  They are volunteers for a German relief organization called Humedica.  Humedica does amazing work in disaster relief worldwide.  They have huge numbers of medical professionals in their database ready to respond to need at any time.  Awesome, awesome organization that does big work really well.

Wolfgang Gross, the founder and director of Humedica, has become a close friend of Jed’s parents over the past 14 years they’ve been working together.  We’ve been wanting to meet him since forever!  Numerous times Jed has tried to plan a way to meet his parents in Germany to meet Wolfgang and it just never worked out.  Well, this past weekend we got the treat of a lifetime!  On Thursday we found out that Wolfgang and his dear friend Jurgen were invited to Kyiv to deliver much-needed medical supplies to hospitals that were assisting injured protesters.  Wolfgang contacted the parents, who contacted us and let us know that we would have a chance to meet!  We rushed off to Kyiv on Friday after school and spent an amazing weekend with two men that will always have a piece of our hearts.  Jed got to help take them around Kyiv on Saturday to deliver their supplies.  Then we all visited Maidan on Sunday. They joined us at Kyiv Vineyard for church on Sunday and then came to little ol’ Zhytomyr to stay the night at our house!  Wolfgang and Jurgen got a tour of MTU and they even got to visit Romaniv!  Super cool and fun.  We were so sad to see them leave.  Having them here felt like family visiting, even though we were meeting for the first time.  It was glorious.

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Wolfgang and Jurgen at Maidan

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Visiting an Occupational Therapy session at MTU

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Wolfgang, Jurgen, and Ira, the Director at MTU

3.  Our boys at Romaniv are FINALLY out of quarantine!  We get to resume our visits tomorrow at long last.  Woot!

Welp, there’s a bit of an update for you.  We are doing pretty well, in general.  Every day is different, and some days are better than others.  We feel some loneliness setting in these days and are really missing our sending church, so, we’re learning in a whole new way what it means to find our hope and peace in Jesus alone.  The kids are doing well and Addy and Ez really enjoy school a lot.

Anywaysssss…I feel like a bit of a bore, so here are some pics to reward you for sticking it out till the end.  🙂

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At this spot on the morning of February 20th, many men were killed by snipers. Here is the memorial to Ukraine’s “Heaven’s Hundred”.

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Addy, taking it all in, history in the making…

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Looking down the hill toward Maidan

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Independence Monument